Vitebsk's Charm

by Vladimir Kotykhov

All the festival days in Vitebsk were bustling, exciting and fascinating. It is evident that Vitebsk lives around this festival and that the festival is essential to the city. It can also be said that the many companies, groups, choreographers and dancers coming to the festival from all corners of the former USSR are also essential to it. This is not only because the Vitebsk International Modern Dance Festival is so far the only one of its type in the entire CIS territory, but rather because the event is unique in its organisation, general bonhomie and entire style of operation. Long after the closing of the festival one remembers its glowing days and enchanting evenings dedicated to dance.

This time the festival opened with a concert, by those who are not only well-known but also loved in Vitebsk, thanks to their previous participation in this event.

We are referring to the studio of Elena Bogdanovich (which now forms part, of the theatre Russian Chamber Ballet of Moscow), the theatre-studio Free Ballet of Nikolay Ogryzkov of Moscow and the company Provincial Dances of Yekaterinburg.

Elena Bogdanovich presented both her short work Totem (danced by Marina Nikitina) which took first prize last year and three new works: Dreams (music by Franz Lizst), Polka-Doll (music by Johan Strauss) and Parallels (music by V. Tarasov). Totem, a work that has become increasingly popular, has not lost any of its initial attraction or contemporary resonance. However, Elena Bogdanovich's three new works disappointed. Parallels seemed wordy, moralistic and devoid of original choreographic language. Polka-Doll and Dreams belong to the distant 1950"s. They annoy us with their variety show sweetness and operetta-like sentimentality.

Nikolay Ogryzkov presented a group of comely, charming young girls, pupils from his school, who move well and who regaled us with their childishly sincere stage exuberance. They danced Other Games, a piece warmly received. However, why were these «games» called «other» I could not quite understand, since the games in question were totally commonplace. Maybe the title was trying to verbally suggest a certain type of new choreography or dance. However, the piece, despite showing a certain originality and charm, did not chart new choreographic ground. Rather it was reminiscent of compositions performed not long ago at physical education parades, with its use of hand movements, little runs, lifts and pyramids. We saw all these same devices used in Games, simply minus the «Peace to the world» motor carts or Pioneer-Youth uniforms and ties of yesteryears.

Next on the program came Provincial Dances, now perhaps one of the most interesting Russian dance ensembles and, without doubt, one of the most stylish. The group showed a fragment of the specially created Zoar by German choreographer Christine Brunell. Harsh and severe, this energetically imbued choreography was imaginatively enlivened by the «provincial» dancers. Not afraid of tackling or entering a difficult, previously unknown world, the dancers were able to find their voices in the dry, germanically precise, well - delineated choreography. The dancers came alive in the work, demonstrating a high level of contemporary dance techniques and drawing us into the piece's painfully tragic world view. In the performers' dance realm - compressed, concentrated and dense - we find sad rhythms, broken self-searches, dramatic dissociations, the poetization of solitude and glimpses of a friendship that never sells out or abandons.

The Vitebsk jury gave prizes to the works of six Belarussian groups. These were: Art 7 Ballet of Gomel, TAD of Grodno, the modern-ballet Galleria of Grodno, the studio-theatre Rayek of Brest, the contemporary movement-studio-theatre Milen of Grodno, and the folk-theatre Gostsitsa of Minsk.

The decisions were met with no objections. The money prizes went as follows:

For «Choreographic Explorations», a prize of 2 million Belarussian rubles was awarded to Dmitrii Kurakulov, artistic advisor of the TAD company of Grodno.

For «Totality of Artistic Production», a prize of 3 million Belarussian rubles was awarded to the folk- theatre Gostsitsa of Minsk (under the artistic direction of the choreographer Larisa Simakovich). The prize was awarded for the one-act ballet The Intention of the Myth.

Translated from Sanskrit, TAD means energy, the materialisation of the imagination. The TAD group debuted in January of 1993. At that time the troupe was composed of a dancing couple and a jazz pianist, Elena Ledovskaya. The choreography drew on jazz music, song and dance. Unfortunately, due to lack of money, the company cannot hire permanent dancers. Therefore the group is composed of dancers willing to participate in the company's shared work with no remuneration.

It is too early to analyse this company's choreographic style. We find a bit of everything here: classical ballet, elements of jazz and glimpses of modern dance. However, it is possible to speak about the gifts of Dmitrii Kurakulov and about his efforts and those of the talented pianist Elena Ledovskaya to create their own theatrical style. In one of the short pieces presented, the funny, clever First Snow, where the two appear together, we saw this style. Our best wishes go to the TAD group, which in May of 1995 participated in the famous USA American Dance Festival.

The Vitebsk appearances of the folk-theatre Gostsitsa enjoyed great success. This group is headed by composer-choreographer Larisa Simakevich.

The programming of the ensemble, is based on a seasonal-ritualistic art. The group shows a preference for pre-Christian period folklore, with a «bylina» (Russian epic) Slavic subtext. Ritual songs, activities, mysteries and ceremonies form the basis and material for the creations of this folk theatre.

The group showed The Institution of the Myth, a modern, strong, self-contained, gripping, movement-based musical composition.

This work was made enigmatic and bewitching by the rhythm, the music and the emotional excitement of the young performers. It included beautiful games and thrilling rousing remembrances of the past and maybe incursions into the future. It gripped the viewer with its young, warm, open dancing.

Natalia Fiksel, tender, delicate and spiritual; the favourite of the last festival, the Latvian group Three from Vilnius, the school-studio Nikolay Ogryzkov, the unjustifiable sad Provincial Dances (in a work by Natalia Shirokova and Tatyana Baganova), the winners of the competition, i.e. TAD and Gostsitsa, the elegant French pair, Frédéric Lescure and Isabelle Ronconglio, ably brought together by Alexander Glebov, and Glebov's slide films (which have already become an obligatory and effective part of this festival) all participated in the closing Gala-Concert where they were warmly applauded.

One sensed that the festival was necessary to Vitebsk and that the town happily participated in the festival «game-plan». The festival - with its many companies, groups, artists and choreographers is needed, as a special particular celebration of contemporary dance, scattered as it is throughout a city that lives or survives in expectation of the next Vitebsk gathering.

Maybe here in Vitebsk there is a certain atmosphere, conducive to the emergence of the new, and we only accomplish a pre-destined mission. We are simply the executors of a certain (spiritual) will. This was expressed to me in her interview by Maria Romanova, the director of the festival. All this could be true. And that in, itself is not insignificant.